The Brain Foundation: How the Lundbeck Foundation is Shaping the Future of Brain Science
Seventy percent of Lundbeck is owned by the Lundbeck Foundation. What does the Foundation do, and what does it mean for Lundbeck, its patients and neuroscience at large?
Back in 1954, Grete Lundbeck, the widow of Lundbeck’s founder Hans Lundbeck, established the Lundbeck Foundation by donating a large amount of her shares and willing the rest to the Foundation. A visionary move, the goal was to ensure a clear purpose and governance for the future of the company.
Today, the Lundbeck Foundation owns 70 percent of Lundbeck. Lundbeck is an individual entity, listed on the Copenhagen stock exchange, with its own governance structure and its own executive management and board of directors. Yet the two organizations share a vision to drive progress in neuroscience and give back to local and global communities.
The CEO of the Lundbeck Foundation, Lene Skole, says: “We are an industrial foundation, which means we are a combination of a business and a charity. We do not have owners, and income from our commercial activities – usually dividends from the companies we own – is channeled back into society through donations for various purposes.”
The Foundation also has investments in approximately 20 U.S. and European life science companies through its venture activities. Lundbeckfonden Ventures is an international evergreen venture fund that annually invests 350 to 400 million Danish kroner in life science companies. Lundbeckfonden Ventures focuses on the development of new treatments that address unmet medical needs – particularly pharma products and technology platforms that are close to or in clinical development.
“We manage around 14 billion Danish kroner in free assets, of which a large part is invested in listed equities,” Skole explains. “Our investment focus is not limited to life sciences. In fact, our portfolio is quite diverse, covering everything from luxury goods to Chinese technologies. This secures sufﬁcient reserves to maintain a stable level of grant activities and support our subsidiaries, if necessary.”
The purpose of the Lundbeck Foundation is to create powerful ripple effects that bring discoveries to lives through investing actively in business and science at the frontiers of their fields.
Committed to the brain
Lundbeck and the Lundbeck Foundation share more than just the name and dividends. They also share a commitment to neuroscience: “We want to be known as ‘the brain foundation’ and we want Denmark to become one of the strongest brain research nations in the world. Just like Lundbeck, we are committed to the brain,” Skole says.
The Lundbeck Foundation is the largest private donor to neuroscience in Denmark. Each year, the Foundation awards around 500 million Danish kroner in biomedical research grants, with half of these grants dedicated to brain research. In 2018, a total of 228 million Danish kroner went to projects focused on two themes: ‘What causes brain disease?’ and ‘How do we best advance personalized medicine for brain disease.’
“The brain is the least explored part of the body, even though one in three Europeans suffers from a brain disease,” Skole says. “We believe the brain deserves a lot of attention.”
The “Nobel Prize of Brain Research”
Each year, the Lundbeck Foundation awards a prize of €1 million to leading international brain researchers who have had a groundbreaking impact on neuroscience. The Brain Prize has been awarded annually since 2011 as part of the Lundbeck Foundation's work to support and promote biomedical sciences research. The winners of the Brain Prize are responsible for some of the most significant advances in brain research, and their work is paving the way for the discovery of important new therapies. The 2019 prize was awarded to four French neuroscientists for their pioneering research into small vessel strokes in the brain. In 2018, the prize celebrated the work of four European scientists whose groundbreaking research on the biological roots of Alzheimer’s disease has advanced our understanding of brain disease and cleared the way for potential new therapies.
What does the Foundation mean to Lundbeck?
The combination of being largely owned by a foundation and at the same time being listed on the stock is truly unique – distinguishing Lundbeck from other pharmaceutical companies and binding the company’s corporate purpose to brain research.
“Our job is to invent and bring innovative treatments to patients, thereby creating value for patients, society and our shareholders,” says Peter Anastasiou, Lundbeck’s executive vice president and head of North America. “The foundation model is unique and an immense benefit to people impacted by brain diseases. Developing new therapies for brain diseases is complex, time consuming and costly. Despite the significant challenges in CNS drug development, the stability of our unique ownership structure allows us to stay focused on patient needs and pursuing innovative solutions to restore brain health.”
A version of this article first appeared in the Lundbeck Magazine.